I was sitting in my cubicle, engaged in the miserable, degrading toil that is my job, when Carl the Annoying Coworker wheeled his chair into my personal space.
He looked around, checking for our boss, then turned to me and said, “You busy?”
I shrugged. “I was just lamenting my lost hopes and dreams and pondering the hopeless, despondent path that is my future.”
“All that?” Carl asked, frowning. “It’s not even 10 a.m.”
“What can I say? I have a tremendous work ethic.”
Carl thrust his smart phone in my face. “Check this out.” There was a video playing of a young comedian doing a monologue. Based on the comedian’s clothes and hair, it looked like it had been taped in the late ’80s or early ’90s.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“Dan Whitney,” Carl said.
“OK.” I shrugged. “And who’s Dan Whitney?”
“C’mon, man! Don’t tell me you don’t recognize him!”
“Am I supposed to?”
“He wasn’t famous when this video was taken, but he’s really famous now.”
“Well, his curly-haired mullet looks familiar,” I said. “Sort of like Slater in Saved By the Bell.”
Carl shook his head. “I never watched that show.”
“It had a spinoff when they all went to college called Saved By the Bell: The College Years.”
“Apt title,” Carl said.
“And they had a resident assistant who had this tremendous mullet,” I said. “I think in real life he was a football player, or something.”
“Forget about Saved By the Bell for a moment,” Carl said. “I was trying to tell you about Dan Whitney.”
“Did he ever guest star on Saved By the Bell?” I asked.
“Are you serious? Not everything is about Saved By the Bell, you know.”
“Haley Mills was on Saved By the Bell,” I said. “The junior-high version. Except when it premiered on The Disney Channel, it was called Good Morning, Miss Bliss.”
Carl shook his head. “What does any of this have to do with Dan Whitney?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I’ve been waiting for you to tell me.”
“Saved By the Bell has nothing to do with anything! Forget Saved By the Bell for a moment, will you?”
“But that’s what I think about when I’m lamenting my lost hopes and dreams. I used to watch Saved By the Bell a lot when I was younger, and that’s when I was happy.”
“I’m talking about Dan Whitney,” Carl said, holding the phone in my face. “This guy!”
“OK. And who is he?”
“I can’t believe you don’t recognize him. He’s Larry the Cable Guy!”
“Huh?” I said, looking at the phone. “The comedian?”
“Yeah! This comedy special was taped before he was famous.”
“Huh,” I said. “This must have been taped before he created his schtick, because he looks just like a regular guy.”
“Exactly!” Carl said, slamming down the phone on the desk. “Larry the Cable Guy is a fake! This proves it.”
“Be careful,” I said, wincing. “You’re going to crack the screen on that thing.”
“I feel like me and millions of other fans have been betrayed!” Carl said. “You should see all the comments on this video. I can’t believe this dude makes it all up. The hillbilly fashion, the thick Southern accent — it’s all an act. I was so mad when I saw this, I wanted to kick one of the tires on my truck. Only I’d never do that, because I wouldn’t want to scuff up my nice shoes. I just got them on sale the other day.”
“They’re very nice shoes,” I said. “Very shiny.”
“Plus, there’s no real point to kicking a tire, because it doesn’t accomplish anything. Your foot just bounces off of it, and you can end up hurting your toe.”
“So I can’t just believe it,” Carl said, throwing up his arms. “It’s completely ruined my day.”
“OK — you lost me,” I said. “Are we talking about your shoes, your tire or Larry the Cable Guy?”
“Larry the Cable Guy. The whole thing’s an act. All of it. And the thing is, I trusted the dude, you know? I watched all his Blue Collar comedy specials. I bought all his albums. It’s like waking up one morning and realizing your preferred breakfast cereal is no longer being manufactured, so you have to switch to oatmeal with raisins on top.”
“That bad, huh?” I asked.
Carl shrugged. “I used to love Fruit Wheats Cereal, but they haven’t made it for eons. I think Nabisco produced it.”
“There’s a similar cereal called Kellogg’s Mini Wheats: Touch of Fruit,” I said.
“Nah,” Carl said, shaking his head. “It’s not the same. I know; I’ve tried it. You think I wouldn’t have explored other options when my favorite cereal was discontinued? You think I take these sorts of personal assaults lying down?”
“I didn’t mean to criticize the scope of your cereal-purchasing prowess,” I said. “All I’m saying is that it’s shredded wheat with fruit inside. It can’t be that different.”
“I’m not knocking Kellogg’s,” Carl said. “They picked up the fruit-filled-shredded-wheat torch and ran with it when no one else would. I would never knock their products or their dedication to providing the public with a wide array of nutritious breakfast-cereal options. It’s just that I miss Nabisco Fruit Wheats cereal. The two products are each delicious, but I’m allowed to have my own personal preference. It’s a free country.”
“Precisely,” I said. “And personally, I happen to prefer oatmeal with raisins on top.”
“And I prefer the blue-collar, working-man comedy of Larry the Cable Guy!” Carl said, slamming down his phone again on the desk. “Which is why it sickens me to find out it’s all a sham!”
“OK, you’re seriously going to hurt that phone,” I said.
“Don’t worry; it’s an outdated model,” Carl said. “The takeaway here is that the curtain has been drawn on one of my favorite idols. I looked up to Larry the Cable Guy. I supported him. And it’s soul-crushing to learn he’s only a character concocted through the wit and whimsy of a one Dan Whitney.”
“Well,” I said, shrugging, “I hate to break the news to you, but since we’re shattering illusions here, I ought to tell you that Pee-Wee Herman doesn’t really live in a playhouse with talking toilets and a pre-Matrix Laurence Fishburne guest starring on occasion, either.”
Carl raised an eyebrow. “You mean you knew Larry the Cable Guy was a character, and not a real person?”
“Well, I’m not one of the world’s pre-eminent analytical minds, but given that he’s a performer — and perhaps, more precisely, an entertainer — I suspected there might be a degree of preparation involved.”
“But isn’t that lying?” Carl asked, slamming down his phone. He picked it up and looked at it. “Oh, man. I really did crack it that time.”
“Well, who did you think he was?” I asked. “Some beer-slinging yokel who crawled out of his trailer on weekends to tell jokes in sold-out stadiums?”
Carl shrugged. “I guess I kinda did, yeah.”
“And you really thought he shopped at Walmart and had a redneck family?”
“Well … I imagined that’s where he got his inspiration, yeah.”
“If you like him, it shouldn’t make him any less funny,” I said. “It’s like knowing that Bruce Wayne is Batman. It doesn’t make Batman any less mysterious or menacing — right?”
“I guess I see your point,” Carl said. “It’s like dating a chick who’s gotten a boob job. You know they’re not real, but if you don’t think about it, you can still enjoy them for what they are, right?”
“I wasn’t planning on taking this conversation in a misogynic direction, but yes,” I said.
Carl shrugged. “Maybe I should give Larry the Cable Guy a second chance. I like his humor. He tells it like it is.”
Our boss appeared over our shoulders. “Enough chatting, guys. There’s lots to do. You need to get back to work and Git-R-Done.”
I looked at Carl. “I knew that was coming. I just knew it.”